The 2014 annual Syttende Mai Bicycle tour was a great and challenging first biking adventure this year. My town, Westby, takes great pride in its Norwegian heritage. Syttende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day, is probably the biggest event in Westby all year. The 60k bicycle tour took a scenic, and for me, eye-opening, route on back roads nearing Coon Valley and looping down through Bloomingdale and Avalanche.
A lively group of us gathered on a crisp Saturday morning in May. We started off on a familiar path, going west on Old Line Rd. Soon, we turned north and crossed US-14 and headed out of town into the valley on Spring Coulee Rd. While the valley air was a bit chilly for comfort, this was completely new and exciting territory for me. I noted several fishermen along a beautiful creek but had no idea where I was. Just when I was seriously considering pulling over to take a break, about 15 miles in, a nice little golf course appeared. I soon recognized Snowflake Ski Club’s Olympic-size ski jump, naked without snow cover. Luckily, fellow bicyclists were refueling at the Club House so I could stretch out my sore legs. The rest of the ride crossed WI-27 and followed County P to County S through Bloomingdale and Avalanche until I was sure my legs would never forgive me.
Fast forward to September, I finally returned to that breath-taking valley and was able to explore those fishing spots. This time it was a warm Friday morning, and I started solo along the same route still marked by painted yellow arrows. After zipping down Spring Coulee Road to the valley, I knew I was in the right spot when I passed this sign.
This is Spring Coulee Creek, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources designates this land, right here, as public hunting and fishing grounds. You can find the sign near the road, right next to the creek. In fact, this seems like a pretty good fishing spot with a bridge providing shade for hungry fish on a hot day.
This was just the beginning of the day’s adventure. I got back on the bike and continued down Spring Coulee Road which follows the creek. The road crosses over the creek several more times and I could not help but stop to capture the stunning views.
Then, I came upon the most beautiful scene. Alone, I might have missed its full worth, but this fisherman seemed to know what he was doing.
Even if there are no biting fish, who wouldn’t enjoy hanging out here?
Yet, I did not see any signage designating public fishing grounds. I wondered, was this not private land? It turns out there are rules for this sort of thing found on the Wisconsin DNR website (dnr.wi.gov). Basically, you are not trespassing if you keep your feet wet. This creek is considered navigable water which would make it a public waterway. If you do not leave the bed of the stream, you are not trespassing on private land.
Getting to that stream without crossing private land can sometimes be problematic. Luckily, there are several points along this creek where the landowners have agreed to allow public fishing.
I came across signs of welcome and counsel.
These fishing access points were also accompanied by regulation notices. Note that trout fishing is limited to a season of May through September.
Farther along County P, after the Spring Coulee has joined the Timber Coulee, an access point lured ambitious anglers in with the promise of a 5-fish “Bag limit”. It did come with some risks though.
At the point where Spring Coulee road hits County P, I missed my painted yellow arrow, and went left instead of right. I immediately discovered another DNR Spring Coulee Sign. This one differed from the first in that it called out a “Trout Steam Habitat Improvement Project.”
I continued down County P and found myself hitting US-14 in Coon Valley. I contemplated taking US-14 back to Westby as I did have to eventually get to work that morning. Instead, I turned around to get back on the Syttende Mai route. I’m glad I did because there was so much more to see.
So what was this Habitat Improvement Project? I later submitted my question through the DNR website and promptly received a response from a very helpful representative. He informed that a majority of the habitat improvement work, along several portions of the Spring Coulee Creek, took place in the 1980s. Since then, the DNR has performed maintenance work, particularly after incurring flood damage.
Erosion seems to be the main culprit. Sediment can cover gravel where trout spawn and feed and can also prevent vegetation growth, reducing food availability for fish. To reduce the potential for damage to the stream banks, the projects aim to open up the floodway, by selectively removing trees along the stream corridor, and works to improve the slope and shape of the banks. Habitat improvement also includes installing in-stream structures such as bank riprap, lunkers, rock weirs, rock wing deflectors, boulder retards, cross channel logs and root wads. Many of these help create deep pools for the fish to hang out in and hide from predators.
I also had assumed that the DNR carried out the stocking of streams every spring to guarantee good fishing for the season. However, the DNR rep informed me that there is no stocking of trout into Spring Coulee Creek along with most of the streams in the Coulee Region. “With the proper stream habitat for the trout, along with a wild strain of trout, natural reproduction is more than sufficient to maintain a strong population,” he informed me.
The DNR rep also informed me that anglers who fish for trout in inland waters are required to purchase a fishing license ($20) as well as a Trout Stamp ($10). Revenue from this Trout Stamp is the major funding source for trout habitat improvement projects.
After discovering another popular fishing spot, I really had to get going. Less picture-taking and more pedaling. I couldn’t help but snap one more.